For Those who dare, the Doctor will see you now!
DIRECTED BY EDDIE SAETA/1973
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: OCTOBER 18, 2022/SCORPION RELEASING (via Kino Lorber)
Very recently, I reviewed an under-the-radar supernatural horror film called The Asphyx, which quickly came and went in 1972. In it, Robert Powell and Robert Stephens are men of proper British society who spend the film tampering in God’s domain in a quest to harness immortality. Had they simply gone out and found Doctor Death, they could’ve actually achieved their goal, and much sooner.
Doctor Death, played with wonderful over the top gusto by John Considine, has been around for a long, long year; stole many a man’s soul… if not their faith. Because this doctor is interested only in the tangible, in staying on Earth. Narrating a hamboned sepia flashback sequence, he explains that back in ancient times, he discovered the ability to transfer his soul to a recently deceased body, which would then revive, allowing him to live on in a new identity. He also pinned down the ability to transfer souls of freshly killed victims into soulless dead bodies. To ensure a steady supply of souls and cadavers, he keeps busy either murdering people or driving people to the point of wishing that they could abandon their body for another. He then grants that desire during a flamboyant stage show.
But the peerless doctor doesn’t have absolutely every last detail of this pinned down. We might glean this from his choice of volunteer from the audience to come up and assure everyone else that the beautiful dead girl that he will ensoul is indeed dead. He picks none other than Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, who in 1973, is only a couple years away from his own death. Moe, in the cameo that ends his film career, is all too happy to press his ear to the statuesque girl’s toga-clad bosom, and then pronounce, “She’s dead, all right. I couldn’t feel – uh, I couldn’t hear a thing!” All these years later, Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls is remembered mainly as the final film of comedy icon Moe Howard.
But as funny as the film may strike the viewer- and Doctor Death truly is a ton of macabre fun- it is, first and foremost, a horror film. A low budget, ramshackle, shot-in-twelve-days horror film, but a horror film nonetheless. In an on-camera interview, the director Eddie Saeta’s son, Steve Saeta, recalls how his father had poured what he considered to be an excessive amount of blood and gore into Doctor Death in hopes of enticing drive-in distributor American Pictures International into picking it up. Alas, due to the glut of this sort of thing back then, AIP passed. Which is too bad, as it would’ve been a great fit. One might even say… “dead on”?
In the story, Fred (Barry Coe) is crushed by his wife’s (Jo Morrow) tragic death, and is haunted by her parting promises that she’ll return to him. This leads him into crackpot seances and making weird deals with the cemetery groundskeeper to never lock his wife’s mosoleum. Before long, he ends up at the same elite Dr. Death “performance” that Moe attends. The doctor decides to help Fred by reanimating her corpse with a fresh soul. But when the first attempt doesn’t take, several more killings are committed. They don’t work out either. Dr. Death is perplexed. In all his centuries of lethal soul swapping, this problem has never come up. All this murder isn’t what Fred bargained for. Also, he really just wants his wife back, not just her body with a different soul inhabiting it. But the good (bad!) doctor won’t leave well enough alone…
Though Barry Coe holds down to fort admirably enough as the flatheaded hero of the piece, it’s John Considine’s Dr. Death performance that ultimately sets the film’s gonzo tone. With his obviously evil goatee and slickback hair, he’s proudly sporting 1970s satanist chic. It’s the perfect look to go with his flamboyant couture of ringmaster-meets-cult leader. No syllable goes unenunciated in Dr. Death’s many animated diatribes about souls, the dead, and his proud mastery of all of it. The middle portion of the film is dominated by his authoritative commands to the wandering souls of the recently murdered to “Enter that body!! ENTER THAT BODY!!”, complete with hand gestures. One wouldn’t expect a guy with his monicker to be such a hoot, but surprises abound… even in Death!
Even more surprises abound with the new Blu-ray of Doctor Death: Seeker of Souls from Scorpion Releasing (via Kino Lorber). Not only is star John Considine on hand to reflect on the film and his career in the feature-length audio commentary and a brief video interview, but he even participates in a totally dorky “introduction” to the film. In it, he realizes his interviewer has died (though it looks like he’s just hiding his face in shame), and then commands his soul to “Enter that body!!”. It does, and all is well. On with the show! All of these extras have the look of actually being older than this, meaning they likely date back to some earlier DVD release. The same goes for Steve Saeta’s short interview about his father. Saeta spends considerable time explaining why the heck Moe Howard is in the movie. (The answer: Eddie Saeta knew Moe from his time decades earlier working on Three Stooges films. Moe did his vaudeville flavored Doctor Death cameo as a favor).
The real surprise, though, is how amazingly good this film looks and sounds. The image is sourced from a very impressive 2015 HD master from the original camera negative. While the Quentin Tarantinos of the world and others who like their schlock movies to look worn and beaten to crap will object to such a pristine presentation, the rest of us can bask in the high quality restoration work bestowed upon this most unsuspecting of recipients. This, for what it’s worth, is how Eddie Saeta probably would like us to experience Doctor Death. So if you dare, make an appointment with the doctor, and enter that movie!!